This Place: 150 Years Retold (9781553797586)
In a graphic novel format, this book tells the story of 150 years of indigenous history in Canada. The book begins with the story of Annie Bannatyne, the daughter of a wealthy store owner and a Metis-Saulteaux woman. Angered by racist comments published by Charles Mair, Annie literally horsewhips him in public, inspiring a young Louis Riel. There are stories of First Nation chiefs continuing their tribes’ traditional ways, despite them being forbidden by Canadian law. Other stories tell of the damage of residential schools. There is the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the best sniper in North American history, and how his heroism in World War I was not enough to get the Canadian government to treat him as a human being. There are stories of children taken away, of families broken, of great heroism and deep connection to traditions and to the land itself. The book ends with a science fiction look at native people in space and a message of hope for change.
Told by various First Nation authors and illustrators, this book is simply incredible. At the beginning of each story, the author speaks about their inspiration and then a timeline is given that shows how little progress was made in Canada. Information is shared in the timeline that allows the stories to be more focused but for readers to learn about more historical points. As the history grows shockingly modern, the events remain just as searingly racist as those before the turn of the century. Still, the message here is one of strength, resilience and resistance. It is about standing up, insisting on being seen, and demanding to be heard. There is hope here in each of these heroes.
One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (9781534421851)
Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, a neighborhood united by good food from many different cultures. Told in thirteen linked stories, this novel explores the power of food to connect, change, grow and even fall in love. There is the story of food that can give you courage and other dishes that can help you get revenge as long as it’s justified. There is the story of a food competition that unites a grandmother and her grandson. There is the quiet girl who knows just what pastry you need just then. There are haunting tales of sacrifice and pain. The stories bridge generations and cultures, they show a neighborhood brimming with new and old connections, and they fill the world with more than a little magic built on shared food.
More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another. There are characters who appear across multiple stories long before they have their own tale told. There are restaurants glimpsed over the course of the entire novel, sharing their magic across many tales. Throughout the entire book, it is the neighborhood itself that is always consistent and full of details. Frankly, I’m not sure how this many authors managed to write such a cohesive and yet diverse set of stories. It is extraordinary!
One element of many of the stories is a sense of deep heritage that bridges generations. There are stories about grandparents and parents, about magic shared and taught, about food and the skill to make amazing meals together. Each story has mouthwatering descriptions of different foods, enough to make readers want to try something new and amazing immediately.
A remarkable short story collection about food and magic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse.
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (9781250191922)
Released July 30, 2019.
Fie is one of the Crow class, despised and ignored by all of the other classes. Denied the right to have a home other than the open road or any weapons to defend themselves with, they are hated because their class alone is immune to the plague. They serve to come into villages and homes, remove the plague dead and cleanse the space, firing up a funeral pyre away from town. So when Fie’s clan finds themselves caught up in royal court intrigue with the crown prince and his double, who faked their own deaths, Fie is not amused. The only people she cares about are her clan, so the two interlopers despite their charm, mean nothing to her. When an offer is made to save the Crows and give them protection though, Fie knows that she must make it truly stick and gets the prince himself to swear a Covenant oath on it. Now she just has to get them to safety in time before they are all killed.
Owen has woven an incredible world in her debut novel, which is the first in a series. I’m always impressed when an author can toss readers directly into the story with almost no exposition to help and it all works and makes sense. The world building is unique and fascinating, creating both a wide world to explore but also a microcosm of several people as they navigate their fractured and magical society. The magic too is interesting, using bones and teeth to create witchery is wonderfully gruesome and delightfully in keeping with the entire book’s themes. Particularly welcome is a deft use of LGBTQIA+ throughout the novel in the society and several characters.
The character of Fie is also compelling. She is a young woman haunted by the loss of her mother by killers on the open road. She has powers but they are in their infancy and her destiny is to become a chieftain among her people. She is armed with a biting sarcasm that lights up the story like flames, and a deep understanding of what is wrong with the world. Her connection with Tavin grows organically throughout the story and adds its own heat to the book.
A great new voice in YA fantasy, this novel is dark, bloody and compelling. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt.
Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781534431515)
Hutchinson, author of several amazing novels for teens, shares a memoir of his teen years as he grapples with being gay and having depression. Hutchinson is open from the beginning of the book that it involves a suicide attempt. He states it with great empathy for both the reader and for his younger self. That tone of self-understanding plays through the novel, never allowing himself to become overly self-deprecating. Hutchinson speaks as a person engulfed in a society telling him that because he was gay, he was broken, focused only on sex, and would live a short life probably because of AIDS. Though he had a wonderful best friend, he could not see a future for himself. Along the way, he started to self harm, started smoking to gain a boy’s attention, and sunk deeper and deeper into depression and self loathing. The spiral is filled with pain and darkness, but the book is ultimately filled with hope and a way forward into life.
It is no surprise to his fans that Hutchinson has written a moving and deep memoir. However, it is amazing how far he is willing to explore his life as a teen, how open he is about all of the things he was feeling and experiencing, and how much he shares in these pages. He bares his entire soul here, in the hopes that it will help someone else find their way out of darkness too. I guarantee, it will.
Hutchinson shares how small decisions, individual conversations, new crushes, and tiny moments shape our lives. He is honest about how he damaged several relationships in his life, how he continued to be absent and self-absorbed, and how that too changed as he dealt with his depression. While it is a book of hope, it is also one about the hard work it takes to come back from the brink, how friends and family can help, and how some questions are simply too hard to ask.
Brave, fierce and incandescent. Appropriate for ages 15-19.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (9780525575115)
In this vibrant graphic novel, Malaka tells the story of growing up as a child of an Egyptian father and a Filipino mother in the United States. She learned to meet both families’ expectations though sometimes they contradicted one another and how to carefully switch between the two. There are stories of breaking unwritten rules in Egypt by skateboarding in the streets as well as tales of not being fully accepted by the Filipino kids at school. Malaka considered white culture something to long after, wishing for sandwich lunches and the lifestyles she saw on TV. As she grew up, she began to figure out how to value her own unique cultural background and celebrate it.
Gharib has created a graphic memoir that shows so many elements of being from an immigrant family, being a person of color, and being of mixed race and heritage. She is open and honest about her own struggles with asking the problematic question of where someone is from, of her own code switching, and her own disdain for her heritage as a child even while she loved her family deeply. Her book is a love letter to her families while still being an honest view of the impact of whiteness on children of color.
The art in the book is full of reds and blues, the colors echoing the American flag. The colors are used cleverly to show character’s hair colors and create diverse and inclusive illustrations. The graphic novel is well paced, full of blunt commentary about race and America, and just the right zing of food and culture.
A diverse and funny look at families, race and America. Appropriate for ages 12-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh (9780062447814)
Plum could not be more different than her excitable sister, Ginny. Ginny has a group of friends at their private school, while Plum doesn’t have any at all. She’d much prefer to do advance reading for her classes than engage with others her age. Ginny is about to graduate from high school and longs to get accepted into her university of choice, but it’s not that simple. First, she has to be accepted and then she needs enough financial aid to attend. While they may live in a large home, it’s filled with clutter and day-to-day life rather than being a show piece. Feeling more and more distant from her ever-more-agitated sister, Plum finds herself in a position to help, but only because of a secret romance. Now Plum has her own life, but it may take her away from her family right when they need her.
This is a contemporary tale with a classic heart. Riffing on Sense and Sensibility, this novel for teens takes one rather old-fashioned young lady and her sister who is her opposite and flings at them the trials of modern life. There are the costs of living when their mother loses her royalty payments, the grueling college application and financial aid process, bullying, and of course, kissing too. It’s a book that offers two great female characters. Plum is introverted, wildly funny and wise. Ginny is anxiety-ridden, loud, dramatic and loving. The two together make an ideal look at sisterhood.
Thornburgh writes with a specific style here. It even more tightly ties the story to classic literature and also reveals Plum’s thoughts and her own way of thinking. The story never drags, instead it is filled with drama and disasters large and small. The writing is a delightful mix of classic and modern with plenty of humor too.
A deep look at sisterhood that is funny and rich. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.
Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (9781524720964)
Just as Tyler Jones is about to recruit the perfect squad, having been the top student at Aurora Academy, it all goes sideways. Hoping to burn off some of his nerves, he takes a short ride into The Fold where he discovers a girl, Aurora, who has been asleep for over 200 years. Rescuing her, means he loses his ability to recruit his squad. He is left with the dregs of the academy plus his sister and her best friend who refused to join any other squad. Their first mission is dull and boring, until suddenly they discover that Aurora has stowed away with them and brought the attention of ruthless forces bearing down on them all. As Aurora starts to show her powers, they realize she is not what she seems and that the future of the galaxy may be in their hands.
This novel is pure science fiction joy. The cast is quirky and very funny, the plot is fast moving and cleverly built, and the aliens are believable. As I read it, I kept on thinking of the first time I read a Miles Vorkosigan novel with their mix of humor and space drama that was intoxicating. This novel has that same feel, that same bubbling humor, wildly dramatic space battles, and enough character development to make it all worthwhile. Kaufman and Kristoff have created a great space opera for teens.
The wit and humor of the book is particularly noteworthy. A large part of that success is in the crew and the way they all interact together. There is the warrior with a huge heart and a grief-stricken past. The diplomat who charms but also cuts with sarcasm. The pilot who is the best around but who can’t keep her eyes off the captain. The scientist who loves firing guns a bit too much. The technician whose big brain can’t match the size of his attitude. Put them all together with a captain who loves to lead and a girl who is still coming into her own, and you have an incredible story.
One of the best science fiction novels for teens, you will not be able to put it down. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox (9780525554295)
Biz can float through her life, realizing that she is part of a larger universe and leaving her current troubles behind. But every time, she is drawn back to her body and back to her life. She does have great people in her life, including her mother and the twins. Plus her best friend Grace. She also has her father, who died when Biz was young, but stays with her, reminding her of his love for her. But when something happens on the beach, things start to spiral out of control. Grace loses her boyfriend over it, and they both lose their larger friend group. When Grace reacts with fury, her family moves her away. Biz’s father disappears and she stops being able to go to school, almost unable to leave her bed. When she eventually does get help via therapy, Biz doesn’t tell the entire truth, figuring out how to build bits of her life back until they tumble over once again.
This is a remarkable debut novel. Set in Australia, the book explores mental illness with a tenderness that is haunting. The beauty of the world Biz’s mind creates for her is a mix of tantalizing promises and real dangers. Even as readers know that Biz is unwell, they too will be caught up in her visions, understand her desire to keep floating, to enter the sea, to find connections. The setting of Australia is just as lovingly depicted with details of the landscape, the stunning coastline and a trip into the heart of the continent.
In Biz, readers will find a very intelligent teen who is struggling as her mental illness continues to impact her life in profound ways. Biz is warm and funny, a person first and her illness second. Her sarcasm draws people to her. After she loses most of the support structure in her life, she meets new people who love her, accepting her as she is, though she continues to search for what she has lost.
Aching and heart wrenching, this teen novel is an honest and profound look at mental illness and being human. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (9781250312846)
Freddy is dating the most popular girl at school. She is exactly the person you want to date, pretty, sexy, charming, and makes you feel like the center of her world. Until you aren’t, which happens pretty often. Laura keeps on cheating on Freddy, breaking up with her, and then asking Freddy to get back together. Freddy knows that it’s not ideal and so do all of her friends. When the two girls break up again, Freddy’s best friend Doodle encourages her to see a medium (who is also a great dungeon master too) to get advice. The medium agrees with all of Freddy’s friends, break up with Laura Dean. But it’s not that easy and as their relationship heats up again, Freddy risks her friendships to continue to be with the intoxicating Laura Dean.
This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship. Tamaki has created several brilliant characters who avoid any kind of stereotype and are written as individuals. In particular, I appreciated Doodle, one of the only teen characters I have seen in a novel that avoids using a cell phone. As a parent of this type of teen, it is refreshing to see a character do this so organically. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop gaming will love the DM as a medium and the use of gaming as a way to connect on multiple levels.
The art is a great complement to the story line. Filled with touches of pink, the art takes small moments and tiny focal points to tell a robust story. Just the images of Freddy’s shoes walking alone after a break up speak so beautifully of loneliness. The characters themselves are also vividly depicted in the art, from Freddy alone on her rumpled sheets to Doodle’s body language when she is being neglected.
An exceptional LGBTQ graphic novel that talks openly about toxicity in relationships and the importance of friendships. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.